Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The Arkansas Razorbacks did not have to call upon their quarterback for late-game heroics to defeat the Tennessee Vols last Saturday.
All the Hogs needed to close out the programs’ first Southeastern Conference road victory of the Bret Bielema era was for Brandon Allen to run five seconds off clock before hook sliding to down the ball and let the clock run out.
While it’s too early to tell exactly how big, the Razorbacks’ 24-20 victory over the Vols lifted a load off Allen and Bielema’s backs, if only for a week. The bear hug the two shared after they sifted through the other celebrating Razorbacks to find each other spoke volumes.
After three consecutive losses in games most feel the Razorbacks (2-3, and 1-1 in SEC) should or at least could have won, notching Arkansas’ first victory in Knoxville, Tenn., in more than two decades was not only significant but also critical to the program’s short-term health.
Fans were downhearted and dejected going into the game, grumbling and grousing that little had actually changed in the three years Bielema has been in charge of the program. With the Hogs sitting at a surprising and unexplainable 1-3, arguing merits of the program was difficult. Another loss with Alabama looming on the horizon would have turned the atmosphere surrounding the program absolutely caustic. However the Razorbacks put together a solid effort to hold back floodwaters.
While the performance was by no means perfect, the Razorbacks took the pressure off Allen, the fifth-year senior from Fayetteville, by taking better care of business throughout the course of the game.
It also didn’t hurt that Allen, who did not have his best game statistically, completing 11 of 24 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown, free-lanced to complete two big pass plays earlier in the ballgame. One went for a game-tying touchdown, while the other extended a drive, keeping Tennessee’s offense parked on the sidelines.
Though the Razorbacks played a much more discipline brand of football against the Vols, suffering only 3 penalties for 20 yards in losses, Allen’s first key play came on a 2nd-down and 15 play at the Hogs’ 33. After Arkansas’ pass protection broke down, Allen darted toward the line of scrimmage. Junior college transfer Dominique Reed broke off his route and moved to a void space in the defense, which contracted toward Allen.
Allen zipped the ball to Reed, and for the first time this season, he showed the sprinter’s speed that made him such an attractive junior-college recruit, whizzing past defenders for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 with 14:03 left in the second quarter.
The second of Allen’s big plays came on the Razorbacks’ second possession of the second half with Arkansas leading 24-17. The Vols stopped Alex Collins, who rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, for no gain on first down. On second down, Allen missed on a throw to Drew Morgan, who caught five passes for 110 yards, setting up a 3nd-down and 10 at the Arkansas 25.
Flushed from the pocket, Allen scrambled right, and it seemed like he was going to tuck the ball to run. The move sucked the defense off tight end Hunter Henry, who labored under double coverage much of the game. Allen lofted a high arcing pass to Henry who snared it, avoided a tackler and going out of bounds to sprint for a 51-yard gain.
Even though the drive bogged down and ended in a blocked field goal, Allen’s feet and alert toss to Henry, who made himself available by moving to Allen when the play broke down, allowed the Razorbacks to avoid a three-and-out and melted 6:42 off the third-quarter clock.
Those plays could prove to be huge in Allen’s evolution as a quarterback. Allen, who was a more mobile quarterback in high school who often made plays with his feet, has generally been a pocket guy as a Razorback. His sophomore year, he avoided running to protect his banged-up shoulder. As a junior Allen moved around more and looked good outside of the pocket buying time, but tended to throw the ball away more often than trying to force a play.
Saturday night, though, Allen had some gamesmanship to his play that had not been seen before. By looking to run on both of those plays, Allen forced defenders to react to him, which helped Reed and Henry to come open in the scramble situation. It also seemed that Arkansas’ receivers were more active in improvising and coming back to Allen in those instances. The two go hand in hand.
After a truly traumatic sophomore season when Allen was beaten up by Florida, South Carolina and Alabama while nursing a bruised shoulder, he played cautious by necessity. Until Saturday, he had never taken off that cloak of caution.
By playing in a more daring fashion against the Vols, Allen, his offensive teammates and the defense with a fine second-half performance combined to avoid the need of late-game heroics by any one Hog.